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“Will China’s Rise Lead to War?”

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The rise of China and the impact it will have is the subject of much speculation. In his paper, “Will China’s Rise Lead to War?” Glaser (2011) looks at this issue. Glaser contends that the outcome of China-U.S. relations is not predetermined to be a repetition of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War or even a hegemonic war as per the standard realist’s view, nor does he agree with the liberal view that the current international order will accept China’s rise peacefully. Glaser’s thesis is that major confrontation can be avoided; he argues that the forces that could create a hegemonic conflict between the two powers are weak; that the greatest dangers will be created through “secondary disputes.” Glaser also contends that the US will have to make concessions alliances to China regarding U.S. to avoid a major clash and that the way the two nation’s leaders handle those issues will determine the eventual outcome.

To the world China is an unknown actor upon the world stage, a communist regime that until 1980’s was for the greater part a closed country. Today as a growing world power, both economically and militarily China like any nation requires respect, security and economic growth and development for her people. In this endeavor China has created something of a security dilemma as no one really knows what role China will seek, what she will demand from those nations around her, nor the consequences of these desires. John Herz (1950) describes a security dilemma as being when a state whilst looking after its own best interests, regardless of intent, leads to a rising insecurity in others due to them seeing the others defensive measures as threatening. Glaser further explains it by saying, “The intensity of the security dilemma also depends on states’ beliefs about one another’s motives and goals.” Glaser (82, 2011) This insecurity, possibly has never been more evident than right now. Currently China is embroiled in territorial disputes for islands with both Japan and the Philippines causing China both internal unrest, through public demonstrations as well as international condemnation and criticism from many parties including the U.S. and her allies.

The geographical positioning of China and the US makes the risk of a conventional invasive conflict between the two unlikely and both maintain sufficient nuclear weapons to protect their vital interests and act as a deterrent for nuclear exchange; under current circumstances, war between the two is unlikely. These points are well supported by Glaser, but the question still remains regarding the intentions of China’s possible expansion and how the U.S. will respond to protect the interests of both the U.S.A. and her allies in the Asia/Pacific region. The implausibility of a hegemonic war between the two nations is reiterated by Kolodziej (1992, 27) while discussing international security and the “state and order” dimension of the security system. In her research article, Bonnie Glaser (2007) contends that China’s foreign policy is one of peaceful development; the paper examines the term, “peaceful rise”, first used by China’s leaders in late 2003, but dropped from use by early 2004 to be replaced with a modified statement “peaceful development.” In April 2004 Politburo standing committee member, Zeng Qinghong at the Opening Ceremony of the 60th Session of the United Nations Economic and Social commission for Asia made comments that promised China “would never seek hegemony, no matter how well developed it becomes and labelled [sic] China’s path as peaceful development.” Glaser (2007, 300)

Charles Glaser (2011) claims that conflict between the two countries has potential to arise in what he calls “secondary disputes” between China and her Northern-Asian neighbours to whom the US has strategic alliances with; namely Japan, Korea and most importantly Taiwan (interestingly he did not mention Southeast-Asia where a territorial issue is currently being played out). “The One-China Principle has been evolved in the course of the Chinese people's just struggle to safeguard China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and its basis, both de facto and de jure, is unshakable. Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.” Taiwan Affairs Office (2000) Glaser contends that the “growth in China’s power may nevertheless require some changes in U.S. foreign policy that Washington will find disagreeable---particularly regarding Taiwan.” Glaser (2011, 86) Later Glaser (2011) states that although current U.S. foreign policy is not designed to encourage Taiwanese independence, nor will the U.S. necessarily come to Taiwan’s aid if Taiwan formally declares independence; he says that Washington may well be led into a crises they are not able to control through maintaining their alliances. His solution is for the U.S. to back away from its commitments in Taiwan, but his argument that the impact of concessions on the issue of Taiwan will have no impact on the relationships of U.S. allies is not convincingly supported. Cheng-yi Lin (Lin, 2011) alternatively says the cost of military action against Taiwan would be costly for China not just militarily or economically but that such actions would be a signal that China is not a reliable partner, and that its peaceful rise was a slogan not a guide for Chinese foreign policy. Concurrently Philippines’ General Cruz’ comment in a recent interview regarding the political situation between Philippines and China, said China could not risk losing their economic and political power by using actual force just to claim the area, that they would resolve the ownership dispute through pressure and peaceful dialogues. Acosta (2012) This is equally applicable to Taiwan and other regional issues.
Conflict between the U.S. and China, purely for hegemonic reasons is highly unlikely as neither presents geographically a strategic threat to the other. The risk from secondary involvement is quite real; but unlikely, if the Chinese government resorted to the use of force in Taiwan (or other disputes), in the case of Taiwan, anything but full compliance with Beijing’s demands would be considered a failure, potentially undermining China’s domestic situation. Taiwan and the U.S. on the other hand would not have to defeat the People’s Liberation Army (PLA); they only need to prevent a Chinese victory. The likelihood of failure may be too high to be risked and could prevent Beijing from opting for war. The economic cost and loss of international prestige would be severe and could potentially disrupt China’s internal security as the economy and people would suffer greatly. Peaceful growth and development really is China’s only option, anything else is going to be counterproductive to the overall security of China.

. 1073 words.



Acosta, P. 2012. “China’s defense build-up will not lead to war, Philippine Maj. Gen. Francisco Cruz says” In Asia Pacific Defense Forum, 37 (3): 7-8.

Glaser, B. and E. Medeiros. 2007. “The Changing Ecology of Foreign Policy-Making in China: The Ascension and Demise of the Theory of “Peaceful Rise.”” The China Quarterly, 190: 291-310.

Glaser, C. 2011. “Will China’s Rise Lead to War?: Why Realism Does Not Mean Pessimism.” Foreign Affairs, 90(2):80-90.

Herz, J. 1950. “Idealist Internationalism and the Security Dilemma” World Politics, 2(2): 157-180.

Kolodziej, E. 1992. “What is Security and Security Studies?:Lessons from the Cold War”, Arms Control, 13(1): 1-30.

Lin, C. and D. Roy, 2011. “The Future of United States, China, and Taiwan Relations.” New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Taiwan Affairs Office and the Information Office of the State Council, 2000. “The One-China Principle and the Taiwan Issue. (accessed: September 15, 2012).


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